Vivaldi Concerto in A minor for Violin: Nachez or No?

September 2, 2019, 5:24 PM · Should I tell them the secret?

It's something I've thought more than once this summer, teaching several of my students the complicated 16th-note passages in the first and third movements of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in A minor for Violin.

The "secret" is this: those complicated passages were not written that way by Vivaldi, who first published this work in 1711 as part of his multi-concerto "L'estro armonico." No, they were invented more than a century later by Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachéz (1859 – 1930), whose Romantic sensibilities prompted him to insert some showy virtuosity into these passages, which in Vivaldi's version are rather more repetitive and Baroque. Let me put it plainly: Vivaldi's original version is a good deal easier.

This piece certainly is a rite of passage for violin students, and generally they emerge with deeper skill and musicality once they have mastered it. The first and third movements appear in Suzuki Book 4, with the second movement in Book 5, but most violinists study the Concerto in A minor, whether with a traditional or Suzuki teacher.

I was not a Suzuki student, but when I studied these pieces as a young student, I also used the Nachez version, which remains one of the most popular editions of the Concerto in A minor. It is the edition that appears in the Suzuki books as well.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about, measures 75-90 from the third movement. This is the version by Nachez that appears in the Suzuki books:

Vivaldi Nachez version

....and here are the same measures from the Bärenreiter edition by Kurt Sassmannshaus, which follows the notes and bowings as Vivaldi originally wrote them:

Vivaldi urtext

Comparing the two: the Nachez version contains some quirky bowings that put some measures up-bow and others down-bow, and it arpeggiates every chord in several octaves, creating more string crossings. The Vivaldi version is all separate bows, with a lot of repetition of simple patterns between two strings. Overall, a good portion of the different versions is essentially identical, but these are the kinds of general departures: the Nachez part tends to have more complicated bowings, and also certain passages are reworked for more virtuosic arpeggiation.

So which version is the right version to use?

As a teacher, I continue to use the Nachez version for pedagogical reasons -- it presents challenge. In order to learn to play the fast-passage notes fluently, students usually need to practice playing the passage in various rhythmic patterns. In order to memorize it, we talk about how to look for the harmonic changes, sequences and important notes. Mastering the challenging music helps push them to a new level of playing, and going through this process helps give them tools and confidence for learning difficult passages in the future.

But after they have conquered the challenge I always do let them in on the "secret" -- I show them the other version, and sometimes we even listen to a recording of it in the lesson. In my opinion, Vivaldi's original notes and bowings allow for a deeper exploration of Baroque style - and also a faster speed limit (i.e. "Presto")!

I'm not the only teacher to debate the two versions and to feel like there is validity in both. Around 10 years ago the European Suzuki Association took up the question: use the Nachez version for its pedagogical value, or something closer to the original, for historical and stylistic reasons? They ultimately agreed to a compromise: they offer teachers the option to use a baroque version. (If you happen to teach in Europe, you can tell us more about this!)

And if you are wondering why Suzuki teachers feel obligated to agree on an edition, it is to allow students from all over the world to be able to play together. Which is nice, but then we can all do our own explorations and make our own decisions. Provided we are given options! So I offer you a few options for your own listening. Which do you like, as a player? Which were you taught? Which do you teach? Which do you enjoy as a listener? What are your thoughts about the differences?

VIVALDI Concerto in A minor, III. Presto

Here is the Nachez version, conveniently set to the sheet music.

Here is modern version with Vivaldi's original notes and bowings, played by Itzhak Perlman with the Israel Philharmonic.

And here is Baroque version by The Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood, played with A strings tuned down to 415. Check out how fast they play the third movement!

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Replies

September 2, 2019 at 11:14 PM · I too had to study the concerto using the Nachez edition (my teacher believed it reflected the original, unlike the "simplified" version which was in fact closer to the original). I wanted to play the movement as fast as Hogwood (it was nearly 50 years ago BTW) and never managed to play the passage in tempo, in fact not even close (interestingly enough my teacher was perfectly ok with my fast tempo). Then I heard a recording with the original and decided to stop practicing the Nachez passage.

Musically I have no doubt that Vivaldi's version is superior: The passage is a harmonic progression leading up to the C-Major* of the following ritornello. Nachez's version pretends to be melody without actually delivering melody and makes the function of the passage less clear. And of course you need to play it at about Hogwood's tempo (even with modern instruments) if you want it to have some spirit. Perlman's version sounds a bit plodding doesn't it?

* Obviously this Major version of the theme ought to be played a bit differently from the other occurrences in minor, maybe somewhat less aggressive.

September 3, 2019 at 01:18 AM · Funny. I never knew any version other than the original.

I wanted to play this piece with a pianist friend years back. Never worked on it with a teacher, though. I suppose that's why I never found the Nachez. Though, I think Vivaldi's original passage is more elegant anyways. It is not a virtuoso piece, after all.

September 3, 2019 at 01:53 AM · I like nachos, so I voted for Nachez.

So he threw in some romantic stylings. He can be forgiven for that. Don't like them? Don't play them. I think they're a good workout for young students. Same for all the junk that Schradieck added to Viotti 22 (the first cadenza made my professor jump up very suddenly in surprise the first time I played it for him).

By the way all this discussion of Nachez vs. no Nachez blows right by one of the most elegant passages in the Suzuki repertoire -- Bars 87 and 88 of this piece! That broken suspended arpeggio! That's such an incredible musical moment. Josh Bell used the same idea in his cadenza for the first movement of Mozart 3 (it comes at the end of his cadenza, right at the 10:00 mark). Just like Vivaldi, he saved it for the most precious moment.

September 3, 2019 at 08:31 AM · Im glad my daughters teacher chose the original and not the complicated one. She always uses the fingerings and bowings that make more sense. And to me that is important, why would you want to teach a child something else than that what makes common sense. After all are they not supposed to learn to make bowings and fingerings themselves at the end?

If one wants to teach the spesific bowings in the Nachez edition, wouldnt it be better to teach them another piece in which the bowings and notes make musically more sense? After all Suzuki was not a god and there are surely other pieces that are beneficial and other ways to teach?

September 3, 2019 at 01:59 PM · I learned the Nachez version in the Suzuki books and as a result, I LOATHE this piece. I enjoyed many aspects of the A Minor, but the above Nachez section ruined the entire piece for me.

Had I been given the option to learn the original/no-Nachez version I would likely have enjoyed this piece immensely.

September 3, 2019 at 11:35 PM · I never played the A minor, my father took me straight on to the Bach A-minor, then the E-major, then Mozart 4; but Winifred Copperwheat, taking me over from my father (whom she had taught, or at least coached for the LRAM teacher's diploma) took me "backwards" to the Vivaldi G-minor. I mention this because the edition we had was also a Nachez edition, and it makes me wonder, how much did the G-MINOR I had differ from Vivaldi's original?

September 4, 2019 at 05:11 AM · I have always wondered about these bowings as they appear to be what I was taught as the "Viotti bowing". I must admit I do prefer the original bowing for clarity.

September 4, 2019 at 06:24 PM · I had to do all Nachez...a, g, and some other. Hated them.... this style of bowing can be found in literature around same time this was written, and in a more VIOLINISTIC STYLE....so, this concert version could discourage students since recordings are readily available in the urtext edition. Just my take.....

September 5, 2019 at 08:03 PM · There is an entirely different question about this piece that keeps bothering me: How come that this concerto--among several hundred Vivaldi wrote--has become THE Vivlaid concerto that every violin student seems to be obliged to work on?

Let's call a spade a spade: This a-minor concerto is far from Vivaldi's most inspired. It is, I think, solid craftsmanship, but rather uninspired except for the slow movement. Plus the good stuff is mostly in the tutti sections while most of the soli are generic and may (and do) occur in any violin concerto of the time. Look at the four seasons for something far better, or if you want to stay within op. 3 at number 8 in a-minor or 11 in d-minor (for 2 solo violins and 2 violins/cello respectively).

September 7, 2019 at 08:58 PM · The four seasons is far more difficult than the A minor.

September 8, 2019 at 10:19 PM · @Albrecht Zumbrunn you can not look at the four seasons for something far better if a student is at a level where he is ready for the a minor. As @John Rokos pointed out the four seasons are far more difficult and that is an understatement.

Anyway, back to the difference between Vivaldi and Nachéz. Vivaldi's original is flowing in the 16 notes passages. It is a great flow. The version by Nachéz is certainly more difficult, kind of turned into an etude, and it also has some weird bowings that doesn't really align with the flow. Well, Nachéz still sounds great when well performed but I certainly prefer Vivaldi's original.

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